Pitching is weird. We all understand that, no? Pitchers are guys that contort their shoulders and arms in unnatural ways so that they can throw a sphere of cork, string and hide faster than that jerk that sped by you on the highway the other day. Sports are generally pretty strange when you really sit down and think about them, but goodness baseball is strange.
Pitching is also pretty awesome. We live in a universe in which Bartolo Colon exists. Watch in awe as someone that looks like your accountant uncle makes hitters look feeble. Laugh with amusement as Colon keeps on keeping on. Then stare in amazement as Clayton Kershaw spins a curveball that makes your eyes doubt themselves. Pitching is easily the closest thing to an art that exists in all of the major American sports.
The Yankees quietly had one of the better pitching staffs last year, until they didn’t. The bullpen was brilliant until exhaustion and inexperience reduced it to a quivering state of praying for a lead to hand to Andrew Miller. Even the great Dellin Betances was out of gas before the season was over. The starting rotation, too, oscillated wildly between greatness and Ivan Nova’s post-Tommy John woes. It’s the rotation that we’ll focus on here.
New York actually has six starting pitchers under team control at the moment for the 2016 season. Seven, if you count Adam Warren. They are:
- Masahiro Tanaka
- Michael Pineda
- Nathan Eovaldi
- Luis Severino
- CC Sabathia
- Ivan Nova
- Adam Warren (?)
Brian Cashman isn’t without options to be sure. Yet even with Eovaldi’s big-boy breakout in the second half, this is an underwhelming group. This is a group of pitchers that failed to regularly work deep into games and left too many innings to the bullpen. This is a group that was plagued by inconsistent health and inconsistent performance. This is a group that could also be stupendous next year.
No, seriously. Masahiro Tanaka will be another year removed from his elbow injury (although that partial tear isn’t exactly going anywhere). Michael Pineda will be another year removed from his shoulder surgeries. Eovaldi got really good and should be all healed up from that forearm strain. Luis Severino is really good and will be allowed to work deeper into games. CC Sabathia’s bionic knee brace might be the most unlikely hero of the end of the season and might be a factor in 2016.
Yet the uncertainty surrounding all five pitchers is unsettling to say the least. Nova as option number six and Bryan Mitchell as option number seven is also a little too close to Chris Capuano for comfort. There isn’t exactly room for a big acquisition to be made in the rotation. That’s never stopped a determined GM from putting a good player on a team, though, and Brian Cashman is one of the best.
The pitching market is rife with options. Aces David Price, Zack Grienke and Johnny Cueto will be available. Quasi-ace Jordan Zimmermann can be had, along with Scott Kazmir, Hisashi Iwakuma, Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada. Reclamation projects Jeff Samardzija and Doug Fister will be free agents. And mid-rotation arms like Wei-Yin Chen and Mike Leake will be in abundance. What the Yankees need more than anything else is a reliable source of innings. They can get that this winter.
In a way, David Price seems like the most obvious target. The lefty ace is not only an excellent pitcher, but can eat lots of innings while neutralizing left-handed power threats that seek to exploit the short porch in right field. Price also wouldn’t cost the Yankees a draft pick because of his midseason trade to the Great White North. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, however, noted that the Yankees don’t seem to be too high on the idea of signing a pitcher like Price that will likely command a contract in the $200 million range. That hesitance likely stems not only from payroll flexibility concerns, but also from the fact that pitchers can break at any given moment. At age 30, Price has already logged 1441 2/3 innings. It’s not hard to imagine him breaking down midway through his monster contract and becoming a burden.
Heyman names Jeff Samardzija as a possibility in that same article. The Shark should certainly get a smaller contract than Price not only because of his talent level but also because of his nightmare of a season. He pitched to a 4.96 ERA with the White Sox in 214 innings. The problem was that he left his slider over the middle of the plate quite often, and it’s hard to be successful when batters are walloping hanging sliders all over the place. The White Sox also had an atrocious defense. All in all, DRA thinks Samardzija was a 4.31 ERA pitcher this year. That’s not good, but it’s far better. Whether or not Samardzija’s hanging slider problem is fixable remains to be seen. Larry Rothschild is a good pitching coach and one of the guys a team would want in their corner in a situation like this.
Much like the Yankees’ second base situation, there’s no easy solution here. The Yankees are largely locked in to most of their players at most of their positions, and it will either take an injury or trade to free up space in the rotation for a new arm. Tanaka isn’t going anywhere trade-wise, and the Yankees seem awfully fond of their new toy in Eovaldi. Severino is a building block and should only be moved if the Bombers get a very good player in return. Pineda is a true mystery. His health will always be suspect, and his wild swings between brilliance and batting practice may be tied to the many shoulder operations he’s had. If a team trades for him, they’ll need to have confidence that he can find some sort of consistency.
It stands to reason that the Yankees will add a starting pitcher this offseason. How they do it is anyone’s guess.
Photo: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports